1921 – Should We Support the Bolsheviks?
Introduction and Objectives
This activity has been developed by Mick Long who teaches at Kingsbury High School. Here is Mick’s summary of the activity:
I have developed this for my Year 11 GCSE group to develop their historical thinking skills. That said, it would work really well or an AS or A2 group.
The game is set in 1921 just prior to the Kronstadt Mutiny and the introduction of the New Economic Policy. Every student has a role, taking part in discussions leading to the major decision the different groups make - should we continue to support (or oppose ) the Bolsheviks.
There is then a further decision for the Bolsheviks to take on how they should react to the Kronstadt mutiny.
The context is artificial, inasmuch as the characters involved would never have come together in real life but students should come to understand the various viewpoints. The key is that some of the characters would act in a parochial manner eg the kulak or the poor peasant whilst others would possibly see things more holistically (such as the Kronstadt sailors). It also allows them to improve their understanding of issues such as why Lenin decided to abandon war communism and which groups were a threat to the revolution. I am not trying to recreate the past but get them to see how things may have developed in a different way.
1. A set of summary sheets showing all the characters (4 pages with pictures – includes names of Mick’s students in the last column in a Russified form)
2. A set of character sheets, one for each character on which they can make notes plus the record sheet for the priests and a letter from Lenin to Bolshevik members.
3. Two voting cards for display – for and against the Bolsheviks.
See www.theworldofstuff.com for the faux-Russian script. You type in the word and it produces a faux Russian word which students may enjoy.
Divide the class into groups
- Group 1 – Yellow
- Group 2 – Green
- Group 3 – Blue
Each group contains 7 students and each student is a different character:
- Poor peasant
- Rich peasant
- Petrograd factory worker
- Army soldier
- Kronstadt sailor
- Bolshevik party member
In addition each group has a priest who acts as chair.
If numbers require, double up on one or two roles in each group.
Distribute the character sheets and give students time to think about their character’s views.
Step 1: The priest calls the meeting to order and each character may make a short speech to the meeting that outlines their feelings/attitudes. The priest will record the main points.
Step 2: Each character may ask questions to the Bolshevik representative. The priest will record the questions and the answers given.
Step 3: The meeting will break up and each character will attend a meeting of their characters. They will determine the overall view of their character with regard to supporting the Bolsheviks.
Step 4: Each character group feeds back the overall views of the meeting of their character
Step 5: The priests will give a short summary of the attitudes and views of the meetings they attended.
Step 6: The meeting of the Bolshevik Party representatives to discuss the letter from Lenin will be in public with the whole class listening to their discussion. The Bolshevik characters have their meeting with everyone else eavesdropping because they are discussing which groups they can trust and which are counter-revolutionaries - this is useful for the class in understanding why Lenin and the Bolsheviks saw particular groups (eg the Kronstadt sailors) as more threatening than other groups.
Possible discussions topics after the role-play:
- Which groups supported and opposed the Bolsheviks and why?
- What does this tell us about the strength of the Bolsheviks in 1921?
- Why did Lenin go on to abandon war communism?